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Careers in Music

A Brief Overview

Music is an ever-expanding field, and those considering a career in music have a wealth of choices. The problem is making the right choice. The world of work is full of square pegs in round holes, and this pervasive mismatch of people and jobs is particularly apparent in music and music-related employment. While some areas are tremendously overcrowded, there is a real shortage of qualified people in other areas. It helps to be aware of just what options are available to someone interested in a career in music. To provide some perspective, career options can be grouped as follows:

Creative Careers

  • Songwriter  Composer (‘Serious’ Music; Film, Show or Dramatic Music;
    Music for the Gaming Industry; Children’s Music; Educational Materials)
  • Arranger Orchestrator
  • Music Editor Copyist

The success of songwriters and composers depends as much on temperament as creative gifts. Determination is perhaps the most important single factor. Not only must they be motivated to write, but also to hone their craft through years of study and practice – and be willing to face the rude realities of the marketplace. Job hustling is important even for ‘serious’ composers, and since creative work can be sporadic, careers must often be pieced together from such related activities as teaching and performing.

Thousands of creative musicians earn most of their incomes as arrangers or orchestrators. They accomplish this in diverse ways, ranging from writing leadsheets to scoring soundtracks. Although it can be a high-pressure field, the panic deadlines are often offset by periods of idleness. Again, determination and a willingness to approach your career flexibly are important.

Many musicians break into the composing and arranging fields as music editors and copyists, and those most in demand are almost always qualified as composers and arrangers too. Many editors specialise in just one field, such as choral or piano music. Again, nearly all freelance editors and copyists earn part of their incomes from composing, arranging, performing or teaching.

Performing Careers

  • Singer Instrumentalist

Singing careers vary from pop to opera. Classical or jazz singing can be a rewarding if difficult career; the field, while diverse, is also highly competitive, and proper training is vital. One difficulty with pop/rock singing is that large segments of the public fail to distinguish between the truly gifted singer and the non-singer who gets by just on personality, sex appeal or publicity. Many aspiring pop singers don’t really know their instruments, and rarely bother to get an objective appraisal from a qualified teacher.

Whatever the style within which the instrumentalist performs, adequate training is essential. Orchestral careers require years of formal training and a familiarity with performance practices of both serious and popular music. Young musicians working in popular music often ask if they really have to be good readers. We still have non-readers in this area, but their success is often based more on personality or composing ability; the majority of professional instrumentalists are expected to be musically literate and read at sight what is placed before them. Besides setting hours aside for teaching, professional instrumentalists usually engage in regular daily practice, continuing throughout their careers to polish their skills and expand their repertoire. In addition to these activities, a large percentage of instrumentalists are actively employed outside of music; from choice or necessity, many moonlight (or more often, daylight) at jobs with flexible hours.

Producing-Directing Careers

  • Music Director-Conductor
  • Record Producer
  • Theatrical Producer-Director
  • Video or Film Producer-Director

Musical direction encompasses every musical style, from pop to classical, and the work of a director can range from conducting shows to church choirs to symphony orchestras. But virtually all successful musical directors share a common attribute: a commanding presence. They know how to lead, either intuitively or through training, and their leadership is not limited to musical matters but extends to relationships with the variety of personalities they work with in rehearsal and performance.

Individuals employed as record producers function at a level and in a manner that reflects their particular competence. Some producers are successful largely because they are good at locating the right musical material and matching it to the right artists, others are masters of the control room. Nearly all producers who make it discover that they must first become recognised in an allied field – such as songwriting, arranging, sound mixing or musical direction. Again, the record producer usually possesses some kind of leadership quality and is able to mix well with other artists, technicians and businessmen.

Both theatrical and video/film producers are ‘hyphenates’, a term used in the industry to describe individuals whose versatile talents may include everything from writing scripts and music to turning out complete productions. Producers and directors don’t get jobs; rather they take on projects, and most of the time they have to invent their own employment.

Teaching Careers

  • Music Teacher
  • School Music Educator
  • Music Therapist

There are dozens of private music schools and hundreds of music teachers who offer lessons at home; unfortunately, many are not qualified at the professional level. Good teachers have completed years of study, often obtaining teaching diplomas or degrees in the process; they are also competent performers, possess sound pedagogical techniques and know how to motivate students.

School budgets, inflating costs and lack of government support have decreased primary and secondary school music teaching opportunities. It is to be hoped that the new Leaving Certificate Music syllabus and greater emphasis on music at primary level will increase employment in this area.

Music therapy is a rewarding field which uses music to help individuals with emotional and/or physical disabilities to function more successfully. Professional music therapists must have a third-level or post-graduate qualification.

Music Related Careers

The wealth of music-related careers available is too long to go into here, but can be grouped broadly into:

  • Words and Music (librettist, lyricist, etc.)
  • Music Services (librarian, talent co-ordinator)
  • Managerial (arts administrator, concert promoter, video producer, programme director, stage/road manager)
  • Broadcasting • Advertising (disc jockey, music library, musical director, producer/director, etc.)
  • Business • Merchandising (artist agent, concert promoter, music merchant/wholesaler/distributor, music publisher)
  • Science and Technology (instrument/equipment designer, sound engineer, studio designer, etc.)
  • Legal Services (copyright/entertainment) – a list which leaves out a huge variety of other activities.

Other Resources

Berklee College of Music’s Careers in Music pages offer extensive information on various career options.

The Band Tips section of the First Music Contact website includes very useful (and downloadable) information on a range of topics, from gigging and recording to copyright and setting up your own record label.

Careers in Music
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